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Snorkeling: A Complete Guide to Exploring the Underwater World

Snorkeling: A Complete Guide to Exploring the Underwater World

Posted by David Morgan on May 25th 2022

Snorkeling is one of the best ways for swimmers of all ages to enjoy the beauty and wonder of the underwater world without leaving the surface of the water.

It’s a staple activity for beach vacations and island getaways.

This article will take you through all the basics of snorkeling and provide a complete guide on what it is, how it’s done, equipment, tips, safety, cost, and some of the best locations for snorkeling around the world.

Explore the Underwater World

Snorkeling is an underwater activity that involves a breathing tube and a mask that allows you to both breath and see underwater indefinitely. Snorkeling is designed so you can explore underwater canyons, amazing coral reefs, and the other visual wonders underneath the surface of the water.

Why Go Snorkeling?

Not only is snorkeling fun, but it is also a great way to stay healthy and fit.

The benefits of snorkeling are similar to other types of physical exercise, but the views are much better than a gym.

  • Improves Breathing – As you breathe underwater, you are giving your lungs a good workout by maximizing your oxygen uptake.
  • Promotes Overall Fitness – Since snorkeling involves swimming, you’re working out your quads, hamstrings, calves, ankles, hip flexors, core, and shoulders without even noticing.
  • Improves Cardiovascular Health – As you cruise past manta rays and sea turtles, you may experience an increase in your heart rate which is strengthening your heart muscle with every breathtaking view.
  • Improves Joint Mobility – Any type of exercise in the water is low impact, improving joint mobility. If you have mobility restrictions, snorkeling can be a great source of exercise.
  • Helps Mental Health – Snorkeling requires slow and controlled mouth breathing. This is the same technique used in meditation and breathing techniques proven to relax and calm the entire body.
  • Encourages Traveling - Snorkeling opens up a whole new world of travel. Get out of your same old rut and see the world in a new way.
  • Connects You With Nature – Observing beautiful sea life in their natural habitats allows you to witness and connect with some of the most beautiful scenes on Earth.

What Do You Need to Know Before Flipping the Fins?

While snorkeling is fairly simple, there are a few things you should know before you head into the water.

  • Learn How to Swim - It is helpful to be able to swim normally before you snorkel. While you can wear a life vest to keep you buoyant, basic swimming skills are still recommended. Snorkel swimming is a bit slower and more relaxed than freestyle swimming. With your snorkel on, try to keep your arms still, letting your feet do most of the work. Practice this method of swimming in the pool until you’re confident in your abilities.
  • Practice Breathing - It will be helpful to learn some slow breath holding techniques as you can use these while snorkeling. With a snorkel on, you’ll be breathing through your mouth, which can feel unnatural at first.
  • Stay Calm - Snorkeling is perfectly safe and there is no cause for concern. To get the most out of your experience, you must be able to put your face in the water without panicking and be able to relax in the water to conserve your energy.

How Do You Snorkel?

Snorkeling is done while laying face down on the water, traveling slowly using a mask to breathe underwater. Snorkeling can be done with or without fins to propel yourself forward.

There are three basic steps on how to snorkel:

  • Get comfortable with the equipment. Before you get in the water, try your equipment on and practice using it, so you are comfortable with all of your equipment.
  • Put on your mask and start swimming with your face down in the water. Ensure that the snorkel is pointing straight up into the air. This will deliver as much air as you need while you explore the underwater world.
  • When you’re ready to start snorkeling, simply swim out into the water and float on the surface using slow breathing and kicking your legs to propel through the water.

Basic Gear Used in Snorkeling

There are only three commonly used pieces of snorkeling equipment.

  • Mask - The mask is what allows you to see clearly in the water. A good mask should cover both the eyes and nose, be comfortable and provide an airtight seal around the face to give a good field of vision. A good mask is imperative to a good snorkeling experience. Make sure it’s clear, comfortable, and allows you to see clearly without having to constantly press the mask onto your face.
  • Fins - Fins are the ‘flippers’ that attach to your feet. Fins help you to move through the water smoothly. While they aren’t essential to snorkeling, they are commonly used because they conserve energy, extend your physical endurance, and allow you to swim faster if necessary.
  • Snorkel – The snorkel is the tube that makes it possible to breathe underwater. The snorkel mouthpieces should be made of silicone and should not move as your jaw relaxes. There are 3 types of snorkels:
    • Basic - A basic snorkel breathing tube forms a J at the mouthpiece and sticks straight out of the water.
    • Semi-Dry - This type of snorkel has a simple splash guard at the top of the snorkel to prevent accidental water from entering the tube.
    • Dry – If you have a problem swallowing water while snorkeling, you may want a dry snorkel that has a dry top feature to prevent water from entering the opening.

Beginner Tips for Snorkeling

If you’ve never been snorkeling before, no problem!

There are absolutely no prerequisites to snorkeling and everyone from children to senior citizens can enjoy snorkeling. It is a safe activity with simple equipment that’s easy to use.

If you’re heading out for the first time, here are a few snorkeling tips to keep in mind:

  • Don't Buy or Rent the Cheapest Equipment - You want to have equipment that you know fits your face comfortably and you know how to use it.
  • Practice With Your Gear First - Hop in the pool at the hotel, or a rec center close to home and test out your equipment before you hit the ocean.
  • Learn Basic Snorkeling Skills & Hazards - Learn how to swim slowly and float without effort so you can enjoy your snorkel experience without wearing yourself out. Understand the basics of ocean currents, waves, and surge to stay safe in the water. Be able to identify hazardous animals such as jellyfish, scorpion fish, fire coral, sea urchins, or stingrays that may accidentally cause stings, bites, or burns.
  • Choose Your Location Carefully - We recommend entering the water from a beach, not a boat. Jumping off a boat into the deep ocean can be overwhelming for first-timers. Don’t feel pressure to snorkel longer, further, or deeper than you’re comfortable and stay with a buddy.
  • Know & Observe Local Laws and Regulations - Learn about local sea and weather conditions before entering the water. In some areas, swimming may be prohibited if jellyfish or sharks are in the area. Always snorkel in designated areas and don’t snorkel in boating or water sports areas.

Snorkeling Do’s and Don’ts

All it takes is a few tips and a little practice and you’ll be snorkeling like a pro in no time at all.

If you’re heading out for the first time, or need a refresher, here’s a few do’s and don’ts to keep in mind while snorkeling:

Do:

  1. Listen to Your Instructor - If you’ve booked an excursion with a resort or travel agency, rely on their expertise. Listen to their instruction specifically in regard to the water and sea life in the area.
  2. Be Aware of Your Surroundings - Pay attention to little things like where the boat is, how far away the shore is, your group of swimmers, etc.
  3. Defog Your Mask - Defogging creates a layer between air moisture in your breath and the glass itself to keep your vision clear. Baby shampoo makes a great defogging solution.
  4. Remove Excess Water from Your Mask - Don’t panic if you get water in your mask. Instead, learn how to clear your mask easily underwater, or simply head to the surface.

Don’t:

  1. Strap the Mask Over Your Ears - This will usually break the watertight seal and allow water to seep into your mask.
  2. Touch the Coral - Because coral is a living organism, it’s important to not stand, grab, or touch it. The same rules apply for other sea creatures, fish, or habitats in the water.
  3. Snorkel Alone - Always snorkel with a buddy so you have someone nearby in case you encounter any type of emergency while in the water.
  4. Swim Too Fast - Snorkeling is not a race. If you’re too focused on swimming fast, you’ll miss what is going on right underneath you.

Safety Tips for Beginner Snorkelers

Every year, millions of people across the world grab a mask and jump in the ocean to enjoy a bit of snorkeling. It is one of the safest ocean activities that allows you to explore the underwater world. Snorkeling is available for everyone, but there are a few safety tips to remember if you’ve never tried snorkeling before.

  • Use a Snorkeling Vest – If you’re nervous about swimming, breathing, and staying above the water, start with a snorkeling vest. This allows you to stay buoyant while you improve your snorkeling skills.
  • Check Weather and Water Conditions – If you plan on going out without a guide, be sure to check the weather for water conditions and understand power of currents, waves, etc., If you go with a travel guide, they will check this for you and will not allow you to snorkel if it is at all unsafe.
  • Don't Use Damaged Equipment – Choose gear that fits your experience level and comfortability. Before you head out, check your equipment for rips or tears and ensure you know how to use it correctly.
  • Keep Visual Contact - When you’re snorkeling with a buddy and a group, keep an eye on them! Make sure that you can see them, and that they can see you at all times throughout the experience.

Snorkeling vs Scuba Diving: What is the Difference?

The big difference between snorkeling and scuba diving is how deep you go. SCUBA is actually an acronym for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA). This allows you to dive deep into the water and breath with a compressed air tank strapped to your back. Snorkeling only allows you to swim at the water’s surface, while scuba diving lets you descend deeper into the sea.

Snorkeling vs Freediving: What is the Difference?

Freediving is simply diving deep below the surface while holding your breath. It’s a risky sport and requires more advanced training. Instead of breathing continuously through a snorkel, free divers simply control their breath and dive without oxygen at all. An entry-level freediving course typically lasts two or more days and takes an extended amount of time to perfect.

How Much Does It Cost to Go Snorkeling?

Snorkeling from the shore at public beaches is typically free.

Snorkel Tours - If you’d like a snorkel tour with a guide who can take you further off the coast, the cost depends on the area. Most snorkel tours are between $50 and $250 per person for a luxurious tour in Hawaii. If you’re new to snorkeling, the knowledge of local guides and the ability to get to better snorkel spots usually make tours 100% worth the cost.

Snorkeling GearSnorkel equipment can vary in cost as well. A simple snorkel rental may be less than $10 in some areas, while purchasing your own can range anywhere from $20 to $200 for a mask, up to $70 for the tube and $50 to $175 for fins.

Snorkeling Travel Insurance - Snorkeling is generally considered a safe activity, but it’s smart to make sure you have travel insurance in the event that you need medical treatment as a result of snorkeling (or anything else) on vacation. Most health insurance policies do not provide any coverage abroad, and a lot of people are surprised to learn that a lot of travel insurance plans don’t cover active things like snorkeling at all. You may want to research travel insurance that specifically covers snorkeling.

10 Best Places to Go Snorkeling

Anywhere that has a beach, you can enjoy snorkeling. However, some areas are lackluster compared to the views you can get in these top 10 snorkeling destinations around the world.

  1. Great Barrier Reef, Australia - This is the world’s largest reef system with warm water, almost 3,000 individual reefs, a thousand different types of fish, and six species of turtles.
  2. Komodo National Park, Indonesia - These coral reefs fall into protected status, and therefore provide beautiful views of exotic undersea life
  3. Grenada, The Caribbean - This is home to the first ever marine sculpture garden, a collection of ecological art at the bottom of the bay offering a unique underwater experience.
  4. Baa Atoll, Maldives - The Maldives are home to 1,200 coral islands with hundreds of different animals and one of the largest coral reefs in the Indian Ocean.
  5. Maui, Hawaii, United States - This Hawaiian Island gives you the opportunity to snorkel through lava rocks, coves and amazing visibility through crystal clear waters.
  6. Bora Bora, French Polynesia - Stingrays are referred to as “water puppies” in Bora Bora where they are common in the warm waters along with blacktip reef and lemon sharks along the reefs.
  7. Isla del Cocos, Costa Rica - Cocos National Park is a World Heritage site and boasts amazing marine life including manta rays, moray eels, bottlenose dolphins, whale sharks, and hammerheads.
  8. Los Cabos, Mexico - The National Marine Park in Mexico is one of three coral reefs in North America with 800 species of marine life, this is nicknamed the “Aquarium of the World.”
  9. Devil's Crown, Galápagos - The islands that form the Galapagos are in Ecuador and the marine life here is vast and impressive. Devil’s Crown is a sunken volcano that is now home to brilliantly colored fish and eels.
  10. Bermuda - If you’re looking for shipwrecks to explore, Bermuda is the place for you. Known for an estimated 300 shipwrecks near Bermuda, there may be some hidden treasure yet to find.

FAQs About Snorkeling

Who can go snorkeling?

Snorkeling has no minimum age. Anyone who is comfortable in the water can snorkel. Children, teenagers, adults, and even seniors can participate in snorkeling almost anywhere.

Do I need to be a good swimmer?

Swimming skills are helpful, but not required. You only need to be comfortable and relaxed in the water. You can use a life vest and fins or even a snorkel belt. However, if you have a lot of anxiety in the water, snorkeling will not be a relaxing experience.

What conditions are good for snorkeling?

The best time to go snorkeling is when the waves are minimal and it’s sunny outside. This provides the safest conditions for swimmers and the clearest water. These are also the best conditions to take underwater pictures.

Ready To Explore the Underwater World?

The ocean accounts for more than 70 percent of the planet. Snorkeling allows you to witness this enchanting part of our globe firsthand.

With a few basic steps, some simple equipment, and a willing attitude, you can easily enjoy relaxing with rays, talking with turtles, and scooting along with schools of fish in the crystal-clear waters of our amazing oceans.